The Allure of Asceticism

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations.”—Colossians 2:20 (NKJV)

Yesterday we saw Paul set the record straight when it came to legalism and the danger it posed to the newfound life of faith in Christ. But as he knew, and we know, legalism isn’t the only adversary when it comes to the Christian life. It has relatives! So, Paul proceeds to shine the spotlight on them, as well.

He starts out by pointing to a contradiction of sorts by mentioning that they were not living up to the reality that Jesus purchased them at the cross. They were free and complete in Him, this was the theological truth. Yet, there was a practical disconnect with that truth because they were not living in it. They were guilty of subbing the sufficiency of Christ with other beliefs and ideals that were revealed by their lifestyles. Here’s how it showed up: “’Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:21-22 NKJV).

His audience, in addition to fending off the lure of legalism, had also fallen prey to the allure of asceticism. To be clear, “asceticism” is the basic belief that a superior spiritual state can be achieved through severe self-discipline. In essence, the more you starve yourself of pleasure the more spiritual you are. More than a few had adopted this lifestyle.

As with most false teachings, there’s an element of truth here. Discipline is a healthy thing that every believer needs to exercise to some extent. Praying, fasting, meditating, giving . . . these all require discipline.

But the key difference here is that, as Christians, we’re to exercise discipline in response to the freedom and favor that’s already ours through Christ. We don’t do it, as many here had, in an effort to make ourselves into something more than Jesus has already made us. Paul goes on to unpack the danger here: “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23 NKJV).

Asceticism looks respectable on the outside, it gets the attention and admiration of onlookers. But inside, where it really counts, it can’t provide the life-giving power that can only be known by knowing Jesus. Nothing can improve what He has already done for us. He is perfect, His sacrifice is perfect, and you can’t improve upon perfection. The Christian is complete in Christ, may we live like it!

DIG: What is “asceticism”?

DISCOVER: Why did Paul warn against asceticism? How might the notions of asceticism threaten your walk with God?

DO: Examine your walk today. What areas are you practicing Spirit-filled, Christ-honoring discipline from a place of grace and freedom, and what areas have taken on a more legalistic, asceticism style of severe self-denial?

About the Author

Pastor Dan Hickling

Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.